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With the goal of snatching Gujarat from BJP, Congress and Rahul to go on the offensive

Akash Bisht | Updated on: 23 September 2017, 15:39 IST

After his whirlwind tour of the US, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi is set to embark on the second leg of his election campaign in poll bound Gujarat.

Having received a phenomenal response in both the US and India for his speeches that castigated Prime Minister Narendra Modi, state Congress leaders are hoping that the Gandhi scion would breathe a new life into the party with his high octane campaign.

Bucking the trend

Earlier, Gujarat Congress received a major setback after one of its most popular faces, Shankersinh Vaghela, quit the party along with his supporters right before the Rajya Sabha elections which had cast a shadow of doubt on senior party leader and Sonia Gandhi's political secretary Ahmed Patel's return to the upper house.

Defying the odds, Patel went on to win the closely fought contest which infused excitement amongst party cadres who were now hoping to end BJP's 19-year-rule in the state. However, the lack of a popular face who could woo the electorate to polling booths and counter Modi's popularity is being raised by certain sections within the party.

It is for this very reason that the party is hoping that Rahul, in his new avatar, would be able to appeal to the electorate that had moved away from Congress in the last two decades.

The push on social media

Gujarat Congress leaders claim that the people in the state have become disillusioned with BJP's development plank and cited the popularity of their 'Vikas gando thayo che' (development has gone crazy) campaign to put across their point.

After the success of the campaign, the grand old party has now launched "Mara Hala Chhetri Gaya", loosely translated as 'I have been conned', which has already started making waves in the state.

A new hope

In the bid to revive the beleaguered party's fortunes, Congress has divided the Gujarat assembly poll campaign into four segments where the Gandhi scion would spend three days each. He will begin with a three-day tour of the Saurashtra region, which is crucial to Congress' game plan as it sends one-third of the legislators to the 182-member Assembly. In both 2007 and 2012, Saurashtra was the defining factor in Modi's consecutive wins.

More so, with incumbent Chief Minister Vijay Rupani representing the region, it is crucial for Congress to make inroads as it could ensure its revival in the state. During the three days, the Gandhi scion will begin his campaign from Dwarkadheesh Krishna temple in Dwarka. From there, he will be heading to Jamnagar to interact with largely the youth and businessmen who have been hard hit by the central government's Goods and Services scheme.

From Jamnagar, he would go to Rajkot to visit the Khodaldham temple, a Patidar deity, and here he will interact with the members of the community who have raised the banner of revolt against Modi and the BJP government.

Congress is hoping to get Pattidar leader Hardik Patel on board to get support of the community. Patel has been at the forefront of the Pattidar movement and any political understanding with him could help the beleaguered party significantly.

Not only Patel, Congress is hoping to have some sort of political understanding with 36-year-old Amedkarite movement leader Jignesh Mewani who too has held Modi responsible for atrocities against Dalits in the state. Dalits in the state comprise nearly 8% of the state population and their support could be crucial for turning the Gujarat elections into a close contest.

A change in perception

On the last day of his trip, Gandhi would visit another temple in Surendranagar before proceeding to Viramgam. It is interesting to note how Congress has carefully chosen visits to temples considering many in the party believe that the majority community in the state perceive Congress as a party that has championed the cause of the minority and not them.

In fact, sources claim that the party has decided to would avoid any references to a particular community to end this perception. “The idea is to ensure that BJP gets no chance of portraying Congress as an anti-majority party. We are sure that BJP would leave no opportunity to rake such issues and target Congress for appeasing a particular community,” said a Gujarat-based leader.

He went on to cite the AK Anthony Committee report which blamed the 2014 defeat on the premise that the majority community felt sidelined during the UPA regime. “It was only a perception but did a lot of damage and we don't want to repeat that,” he added.

Moreover, the party feels that voices from the ground should be incorporated in its manifesto and therefore it has asked the common folk to contribute their ideas under the statewide programme 'Ichchha Tamari, Sankalp Amaro' (Your wish, our determination). Apart from its social media campaign, the party has also finalised its campaign slogan “Congress Aave Che — Navsarjan Lave Che” (A resurgent Gujarat under congress).

Congress received another shot in the arm after the acting president of the rebel JD(U) faction, Chotu Bhai Vasava, expressed his desire to have an alliance with the grand old party in the state. Defying party leadership, Vasava had voted for Ahmed Patel during the Rajya Sabha elections.

A six-time MLA, Vasava enjoys considerable support amongst the tribals of the state and their support could yet again help Congress turn the Gujarat assembly elections into a close contest.

First published: 23 September 2017, 15:39 IST